Navy blazes trail for joint network

Officials move to fill NMCI-NGEN gap

At the Navy’s recent Next-Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN) industry day, Navy officials laid out their latest plans for the NGEN program, and told industry representatives that the effects of the network services fielded under NGEN would be felt across the Defense Department.

Robert Carey, chief information officer for the Department of the Navy, told industry representatives that NGEN’s goal of access to an individual’s applications and data anywhere on the network with the swipe of a common access card was one that extended well beyond the Navy.

“Imagine if you're [Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice-Chairman] General Cartwright--you want that [capability across] the DOD,” Carey said March 31. “We're going to be the trailblazers for that activity. You can bet that they’re looking at NGEN as that next big network transformation that might be the path to capabilities that DOD is looking for as far as joint interoperability -- how we do identity management, how we access the network, how we do directory services -- we're going to trailblaze here. So you all have an opportunity to provide insight.”

The event was run by officials from the Navy’s NGEN System Program Office (SPO), a new organization established last year by the Navy to encompass all aspects of the NGEN project and the transition from its predecessor, the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI). Adm. Bill Goodwin was named assistant chief of naval operations overseeing the NGEN SPO in February. “My responsibility is to synchronize the efforts of the operations, the policy, programming, the resource and the acquisition piece to make sure that with so many stakeholders in a project of this magnitude that we don't miss something,”Goodwin told reporters after the event.

To gain more control over and visibility into the operation of the network, the Navy is looking at several acquisition models for NGEN. But in all of them, the Navy Department will have overall responsibility for network operations. Although the Navy is seeking to have contractors perform much of the on-site labor required to maintain NGEN desktops and other systems, the Marine Corps will largely use its own Marines to serve that role with the assistance of contractors.

That’s a major shift from the strategy the Navy took with Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), which was contracted to EDS Corp. (now a unit of Hewlett-Packard Co.) under a commercial services contract— outsourcing almost all of the operation and maintenance of the network and its component services to EDS. Bringing operations back in-house carries with it perhaps more complexities than Navy officials had anticipated.

“In the beginning, I think folks underestimated the complexity associated with the transition from NMCI moving forward -- particularly from the standpoint of moving from a commercial services contact into what might follow,” said Dr. John Gauss, acquisition division head in the NGEN SPO, in a meeting after the event with reporters. “The folks who architected the [NMCI] strategy I don't think considered that it would be brought back in-house someday. If you think about what NMCI has done, with integrating hundreds of networks into a single computing environment, it's quite the feat. And I don't think anyone in government has ever taken a commercial services activity of this magnitude and tried to take it back in-house.”

Because of the size of the NGEN contract, it falls under the governance of DOD Directives 5000.1 and 5000.2. That has added more compliance requirements and complexity to the acquisition, as the Navy must have its acquisition strategy approved by the assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

All of those dimensions of complexity are reasons the Navy now finds itself facing a gap between the end of the NMCI contract on September 30, 2010 and the beginning of the ramp-up of NGEN — a gap of almost a year. NGEN SPO officials announced at the event they would seek a sole-source contract with HP’s EDS unit to continue to provide contracted services for more than three years after the end of EDS’ NMCI contract. Navy officials don’t anticipate awarding contracts for NGEN until 2011, after which NGEN will be phased in over 28 months.

NGEN program manager Capt. Tim Holland said the contract would include a “government-use license” for the intellectual property associated with running NMCI. This information was seen as critical to many potential competitors for the NGEN contract, as NGEN would have to integrate with NMCI services when the contract begins, and match or exceed the levels of service of NMCI.

Carey told industry representatives that NGEN should not be viewed as separate from the DON Naval Networking Environment 2016 (NNE 2016) strategy, but as a step toward the capabilities the Navy is seeking to meet that strategic goal. ““This is the opportunity for you guys to tell us what how to do things better than how we're doing things to day for less money and more capabilities,” he said. “This isn’t just a cookie cutter replacement [for NMCI]; this is the opportunity to break out and create capabilities that don't exist today. You will see the NNE 2016 tenets in this acquisition, so just be mindful of that.”

About the Author

Sean Gallagher is senior contributing editor for Defense Systems.

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